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Do you plan to continue the three-course tasting menu at $15?

There are two dynamics there. You have price-value equation, which we attempted to address with the $15 price. That’s probably not a permanent installation. It’s not a big discount, so it’s not a huge P&L [profit and loss] haircut at the restaurant level, but it is a sign of the times.

What are the positive aspects of that promotion?

The more permanent components are the dishes contained in that initiative. They are bringing back successful and popular products from years gone by that were, for one reason or another, taken off the menu. That’s something you may see more of.

Robin Ahearn has left Ignite as chief marketing officer. What does that mean for Macaroni Grill?

It’s a natural evolution of the growth of Ignite. When Ignite was a one-brand dominant enterprise with Joe’s, Ray [Blanchette] is running Joe’s. When you add Mac Grill, a brand roughly the size of Joe’s, essentially what you end up doing is replicating that structure by having the individual brands fully accountable for their performance. It’s a natural progression. Robin is starting her own business, and she is incredibly excited about that. I’m coming in as president of Mac Grill. We both believe that this is the right way to approach this. It’s not a surprise. It’s not an attempt to shed G&A. It’s a natural evolution of the strategy of having the brand accountability rest with the president of the brands.

Wine has been an integral part of Macaroni Grill’s offerings. What do you see for the future there?

Wine is obviously a big part of our DNA and our heritage. The two components that nestle nicely within that are Mezzo Prezzo [half price bottles of wine on Thursday in most states], which is not particularly new, and obviously the honor-system table wines. Those are both pieces of what I would call a longer-term expression of the identity of Mac Grill. It also is part of the conviviality that is a hallmark of the brand.

What are you most looking forward to?

This is a young company. It feels like a startup. Ignite has only existed for 18 months. It has that vibe. The brand itself is a classic brand turnaround. Everything works. This brand is wired for success. It has a terrific heritage and terrific foundation. My job is to simplify the business in order to amplify some of the core equities, while being mindful that we are dealing with an emerging consumer who has different needs and tastes than their parents and grandparents. In the end, I think it comes down to food equities and service equities. And we’ve got both in spades.

Contact Ron Ruggless at ronald.ruggless@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless